Les Canelés de Bordeaux

Ingredients:

500 g whole milk
2 vanilla beans
30 g unsalted butter, cubed into 5 cm cubes
1 whole large egg
3 large egg yolks
130 g flour
230 g granulated sugar
50 g dark rum
48 g beeswax
32 g butter

Tools:

Kitchen scale
Paring knife
Pot for heating milk
Rubber spatula
Big metal bowl
Whisk
Covered glass bowl for refrigeration
Seasoned canelé molds. This recipe makes 12 canelés, so use 12 or fewer if baking in multiple batches.
Pizza stone
Baking pan, like a sturdy cookie sheet
Aluminum foil
Small pot for melting wax and butter

The Background

Canelés are specialty treats popular in the Bordeaux region of France, where they originated. Small striated cylindrical pastries, flavored with vanilla and rum, they are baked in special copper molds that give them a caramelized outer layer and a custard-like center. I first encountered them on a trip to France in 2023, when we stayed in Bordeaux for three days. I thought they were quite tasty, and since they are kind of crusty they held up well packed away in travel bags on train trips from city to city. They are delicious and unique, something I wanted to try my hand at making at home to add some dessert variety from time to time.

The Process:

Seasoning the molds: one time only

There are different kinds of canelé molds, of course. The traditional tin-lined copper ones are the best according to everything I’ve read — they’re expensive, $10-$20 each, but for a reason. Copper molds transfer heat better than any other material like aluminum, and they are thick and sturdy (I’ve dropped mine more than once, and I can imagine aluminum ones denting rather easily). Don’t get silicone molds. You don’t want to go cheap with your molds.

Assuming you get proper copper molds, you need to “season” them initially before using them, kind of like seasoning a cast iron skillet. There are different methods for seasoning them, but this simple method worked for me just fine: spray the inside with regular cooking spray and put them upside down (open side down) in the oven at 350° for 10 minutes, directly on the oven rack with something underneath to catch the drips. Take them out, wipe them out with a paper towel and let them cool, then repeat once more. My molds unfortunately lost some of their pretty copper coloring during this process, but I suppose that’s not a big deal.

After this initial seasoning, your molds are ready to go!

As far as maintenance is concerned, assuming you’re using proper copper molds, don’t ever wash them with soap or scrub them with anything scratchy. Just wipe them out, rinse them out with hot water, but don’t use soap and never put them in the dishwasher.

Two or three days ahead of baking, make the mixture

Combine the flour and sugar and set aside. Using the glass dish that you’ll be using to refrigerate the mixture is a smart move. Get the whole egg and egg yolks ready in the big metal bowl.

Split and scrape the caviar out of the vanilla beans; add the caviar and bean pods to the milk and heat on the stove, stirring with the rubber spatula occasionally. Whisk the egg and egg yolks in the big metal bowl while the milk heats. When the milk just starts to boil, remove it from the heat and stir in the cold cubed butter.

Let the milk cool for a couple minutes; while it’s still pretty hot, temper half of it into the eggs by slowly whisking it into the eggs. Pour this milk/egg mixture into the flour/sugar mixture and stir till smooth. Add the rest of the milk/butter mixture, including the vanilla bean pods. Stir again till smooth. Stir in the rum. Yes, this mixture is surprisingly thin, but it’s right! Cover the glass container and stick it in the refrigerator.

Two or three days later, when you’re ready to bake your canelés:

Two hours ahead of baking time, get your mixture out of the refrigerator so that it can get up to room temperature before baking. It is likely to have undergone a bit of separation and possibly a bit of skin forming on the top, but this is fine and stirring will make the mixture smooth. Sometime within these two hours, discard the vanilla bean pods, stir the mixture, and strain it through a fine sieve. This will filter out any small particles of vanilla bean residue, but will of course leave in the beautiful tiny vanilla flecks.

Prepare the molds: melt a 60/40 mixture of beeswax and butter: 48 g beeswax and 32 g butter is probably good for 12 canelé molds. I use a briki coffee pot (like is used for Greek or Turkish coffee) on my stove over low heat. Any small pot should work, though; one with a pour spout is best. Put the molds in a warm/hot oven for a few minutes until they are pretty warm but not too hot to hold. Fill a mold 2/3 full or so with the beeswax mixture, and quickly pour the mixture back into the pot using a spin/tip motion to evenly coat the inside, then turn open-side down onto a wire rack or paper towel. Repeat for the rest of the molds. This can get messy, and requires practice. If the mold is too hot or if you go too slowly, your fingers may start to burn and you risk dropping the mold, and the wax may just all run out leaving the coating too thin. If the mold is too cold, the coating will be too thick and uneven. If you mess up, it’s frustrating, but you can recover; for each mold, if worse comes to worse, you can place it in the warm oven to get the wax to melt, dump it back into the pot, wipe it out, and start again.

The result you’re going for here is all of your molds having a nice thin even coating of beeswax/butter inside, without pooling in the valleys or crusting around the opening. Some wax inevitably gets on the outside of the molds; wipe this off to reduce the amount of wax that pools on the pan while baking; this is the source of smoking during baking. It won’t ruin anything, but you don’t want a smoky house.

Once your molds are prepared, put them in the refrigerator to chill them.

Heat the oven, with a pizza stone and foil-lined pan, to 425°F. I fold up the sides of my foil so that there is a low “wall” all the way around, making kind of a walled foil tray. Wax will overflow onto the foil as the canelés bake, so this is a good way to catch the messy wax to keep it off the pan.

Stir the mixture to make sure it’s all a nice even consistency. Fill the chilled canelé molds to within 5mm from the top. Remove the hot pan from the oven, and arrange the filled canelé molds onto the foil on the pan. I have six molds and a circular pizza stone, so I arrange the molds in a circular pattern that will place them with plenty of stone directly under them. Slide the pan back into the oven onto the pizza stone.

Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350°F and bake for another 35 minutes.

Remove one of your canelés from the mold by tipping it upside down onto a paper towel. It’s likely to have grown, puffing out of the mold, but will retain its shape and be a nice crusty golden brown.

At this point, the “top” (bottom as it sits in the oven) of my canelés are always light blonde, probably because they have puffed and retracted from the bottom of the mold, losing the contact necessary for the browning to occur. Re-seating the canelé into the mold, even tapping the mold slightly, should allow it to drop fully inside to re-establish contact with the bottom of the mold. Repeat this with each canelé.

In my experience, wax has flowed out of the mold and pooled on the foil around the molds. Reducing the heat to 350°F has helped things not be so smoky, but even so, I have resorted to doing this initial checking/re-seating outside and changing the foil in the process.

Pop the canelés back into the oven on the pan and bake for another 10 minutes. Check them again: I grab out one at a time with tongs, dump it out of the mold to check the top color; if it’s still too light, back into the mold it goes, and back into the oven for another few minutes. When each canelé has a nice even color, you’re all done. Cool them rounded-side up on a wire cooling rack.

Tips & Gotchas:

Multiple. The “process” above outlines some steps that will help.

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